Are you a ‘Truth Christian’ or a ‘Love Christian’?
According to a Margot Starbuck’s new book Permission Granted, neither option is satisfactory.
“The ‘Truth Christians’ are excited about truth, morality and righteousness and fail to love the way we’ve been called to love. Then there’s the ‘Love Christians’, and sometimes the appearance is anything goes and we’re afraid to speak truth and offer transformation to the ones God loves.
“I think the third way really is the way of Jesus because he was not afraid to engage with the lives of those his culture has identified as special sinners.”
Living and writing in North Carolina, Margot has seen the best and worst of American Christianity.
“I would see and hear reports in the news of Christians who were picketing strip clubs. Or there’s a pastor in the US who was threatening to burn the Koran and it was heartbreaking. I know that these extreme believers don’t represent the majority of Christians who are purposing to live love like Jesus lived love.”
The realisation that Christianity has moved away from Jesus' primary command to ‘love thy neighbour’ propelled the author to look for people modelling both the truth and love aspects of the gospel.
“I read something online about a woman who used to be in the adult entertainment industry; she and a friend now minister to these exotic dancers in the clubs. They got involved in a situation where a church was picketing a strip club every weekend. It’s fascinating because the dancers came out on Sunday morning and started picketing the church with signs of ‘Jesus loves me’ and ‘do not judge’!
“This woman who witnesses to exotic dancers - I was just so intrigued that she equips folks from churches to go in and befriend these dancers and love them. They bring the pizza and gift bags and it really captured my imagination.”
Margot believes Christians have been given two messages that appear to contradict: “One is to keep your distance from the world and the other is to love people the way Jesus loved them.”
“I meet a lot of Christians who find themselves in a bind. They want to love their neighbours; but if they’ve been taught to keep their distance, they don’t know how.
“If my faith is more conservative, what does it look like if I move next door to two lesbian women and their children? What does it mean to love my neighbour? That question really excites me because of the types of anxieties we bring to loving our neighbours. Mostly we’re afraid it will appear we condone or condemn; I don’t see those anxieties in the person of Jesus.
“It’s beautiful the way he did engage with people without any fear or concern for his reputation. I’ll be honest, there are folks that I’m afraid if someone sees me with them, they will think I don’t believe the right thing - even people in my church. I’m afraid that they’ll see me at the gay pride parade or in a certain bar in town that it will appear as though I’m not orthodox or I’m not in the club.
“Those sorts of anxieties are very common and typical for Christians, but I don’t see that concern for reputation in the person of Jesus. So the type of love that I’m wanting to give snapshots of is that type of love that lays aside my concern for what people think of me and is brave and courageous and willing to love those who are on the outside and have been marginalised by the religious.”
Margot’s book is all about giving permission to Christians to love people and not worry about the consequence. She believes that in doing this, non-believers will model Jesus' life.
But how did Christian culture reach a point where loving sinners became a struggle?
“I think that, within Christian culture, there is still a pressure to appear as though we have it all together and appear we have arrived.
“We put on a mask, we look like we have it all together and I don’t think that was ever God’s plan for us. There’s a lot of pressure in the church to appear as though we are something other than who we are.
“In the course of writing this I really came to know my own brokenness. In the story of the prodigal son I can kind of imagine being the older brother. I can kind of imagine being the gracious father, but I’m really not the prodigal son because I’m pretty good and I’m not a big sinner like that guy was.
“As an experiment, I thought what if instead of identifying with the father or older brother, I said: ‘I am the prodigal son.’ I went through the gospels and sinner after sinner; I am the woman at the well, I am the woman caught in adultery. I was surprised how liberating and wonderful that felt to be able to say I am the one who is broken I am the one in need.
“I experienced grace in a fresh way that I never could have accessed if I'd continued to insist I was the pretty good religious one.”
Margot’s book is sure to shake up Christian culture on both sides of the Atlantic. The aim is for Permission Granted to encourage, equip and entertain.
“My hope, as folks read this book, is that they would be willing to experiment; not just reaching out to those who have been marginalised by the church, but also in their own hearts. Identifying with those who stand in need of God’s grace because that’s when I experience that grace washing over me in a really fresh way.”
April 19th, 2013 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes